Periodizing With Control

Seb Franklin

Seb Franklin is Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at King’s College London, where he co-convenes the MA in Contemporary Literature, Culture, and Theory. He is the author of Control: Digitality as Cultural Logic (MIT Press, 2015).

This essay is guided by the following question: what kinds of critical possibilities become legible if one reads Gilles Deleuze’s conceptualization of control societies both as a work of periodization theory and as a theory of periodization? In other words, how might one read control in methodological terms? One of the motivations for this inquiry is Fredric Jameson’s observation that periodizing hypotheses “tend to obliterate difference and to project an idea of the historical period as massive homogeneity (bounded on either side by inex­plicable chronological metamorphoses and punctuation marks” (1991, 3-4). Jameson’s solution to this problem is to conceive of the “cultural dominant” that replaces the concept of style within aesthetic analysis and that thus allows for “the presence and coexistence of a range of different, yet subordinate, features” (1991, 4). The features that Deleuze attributes to control suggest the possibility that this analytical rubric can be extended to the analysis of “dominant” features that occur not in spheres conventionally described in aesthetic (or stylistic) terms, such as architecture, literature, and visual art, but in material- discursive arrangements like governmentality, technology, and economics. A close reading of Deleuze’s theorization of control reveals those three threads to be knotted together in ways that both invite and are irreducible to historical breaks. Because of this, Deleuze’s writing on control societies points towards modes of historical analysis that can account for complex assemblages of epistemic abstractions and the concrete situations that undergird and (for worse and for better) exceed them.

It is certainly the case that periodizing gestures appear to ground the essays “Having an Idea in Cinema” (1998; first delivered as a lecture at La Fémis in 1987) and “Postscript on Control Societies,” as well the conversation with Antonio Negri published as “Control and Becoming” (1995; first published in 1990). [1] Across these texts Deleuze names and sketches the contours of a sociopolitical and economic logic that diverges in important ways from the earlier regimes of sovereignty and discipline theorized by Michel Foucault. In the earliest of what one might call the control texts, ostensibly a commentary on the cinema of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Deleuze itemizes the signature components of disciplinary societies—“the accumulation of structures of confinement” (prisons, hospitals, workshops, and schools)—in order to demarcate a period in which “we” were “entering into societies of control that are defined very differently” (1998, 17). These newer types of societies are signaled by a specific mode of social management: the age of control comes about when “those who look after our interests do not need or will no longer need structures of confinement,” with the result that the exemplary forms of social regulation begin to “spread out” (1998, 17-18).

So, the dissolution of institutional spaces and the concomitant ‘spreading out’ of disciplinary power marks the first characteristic of control societies and, apparently, establishes their difference from arrangements centered on ‘classical’ sovereignty or disciplinary power. The exemplary diagram here is the highway system, in which “people can drive infinitely and ‘freely’ without being at all confined yet while still being perfectly controlled” (1998, 18). In “Control and Becoming” Deleuze once again speaks of the passage through sovereignty and discipline and the breakdown of the latter’s sites of confinement, but he adds a second valence in the form of a discussion of technology that is only hinted at in the earlier piece’s allusions to information and communication. In this conversation Deleuze again appears bound to the notion of the historical break: he suggests that sovereign societies correspond to “simple mechanical machines,” disciplinary societies to “thermodynamic machines,” and control societies to “cybernetic machines and computers” (1995a, 175).

These two intertwined narratives—of distributed governmentality and technologies of computation—represent the two main vectors through which the concept of control has shaped subsequent critical writing. For example, one might read Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s concept of empire (2000) as emphasizing the former, and Alexander R. Galloway’s Protocol: How Control Exists After Decentralization (2004) as privileging the latter, although in truth each addresses both technology and power in some ratio. Equally, one can identify commonalities between the lineaments of control societies and a still-growing body of periodizing concepts, both celebratory and critical, that do not mention Deleuze’s concept but that define a similar set of historical movements in more universal terms: the information age; digital culture; the network society; post-industrial society; the age of big data; and so on, and so on, and so on.

So many ways to dream a ‘pure’ economy of services and informatic exchanges. But what do such imaginaries occlude? Does ‘real subsumption’ really describe the full, evenly distributed inclusion and valorization of all social activity? Or does it describe the complex of material conditions, conceptual operations, and imaginaries that organize social life around abstract principles for the efficient extraction of relative surplus while remaining structurally premised on the regulatory function of surplus populations and, increasingly, the second-order extraction of residual value from these populations? Can one really disaggregate the general and generalizing notion of “free floating,” decentralized, and computer-enabled control societies from such imaginaries, even if Deleuze’s intent is ostensibly critical if not revolutionary? Based on the general tendency with which the Deleuzian concept of control has been deployed in critical writing, the answer must be no, as Wendy Hui Kyong Chun suggests when she writes that the notion of control risks sustaining the very discursive formation that it sets out to critique (2006, 9). Across the control texts, though, it is possible to identify a more complex system of periodization, one that is less concerned with linear (albeit staggered and layered) progression than with the multiplication of different, often competing systems of historical knowledge that make the absolute novelty and specificity of control societies impossible to sustain even as it is defined and deployed as an explanatory periodization theory. This movement, which starts to appear with a couple of passing remarks in “Control and Becoming” and that comes more fully into view across the six pages of the “Postscript,” suggests that Deleuze is concerned not only with extending Foucault’s periodizing project but also complicating the kind of historical thinking that produces the various totalizing concepts listed above. Could it be that the final sketch of control, the “Postscript on Control Societies,” encrypts the kind of multithreaded historical method that is necessary for engaging with the epistemic demands of the period it ostensibly defines? Might this, rather than the specific characteristics that Deleuze attributes to control, represent the real import of his intervention? The remainder of this essay examines the intersections of the three strands touched upon in this introductory discussion—power, technology, and economy—in order to foreground these historical-methodological possibilities.

1. Power

 As cleanly as the discipline-control sequence appears to function, it becomes clear across the control texts that the relationship between the two terms cannot be reduced to one of direct succession or linear extension. In “Having an idea in Cinema,” for example, Deleuze points out “there are all kinds of things left over from disciplinary societies, and this for years on end” (1998, 17). In the conversation with Negri he further complicates the relationship between the two periodizing concepts by stating that Foucault was “one of the first to say that we’re moving away from disciplinary societies, we’ve already left them behind” (1995a, 174). And in the “Postscript” he writes that “Control is the name proposed by Burroughs for this new monster, and Foucault sees it fast approaching” (1995b, 178). So control is: a discrete period full of leftovers from a previous one; an episteme that is at once being approached and that has already been fully entered; and a period that is yet to be entered but that will be soon. There is nothing like a consensus across these three temporal relations. Each, however, makes it clear that the relationship between the periodizing terms cannot be understood in terms of a break. This opens up a series of questions that have methodological, as well as historical implications. What is the temporal relationship between discipline and control? What role does sovereignty play in the two ‘later’ periods? What drives the Globally uneven movement between disciplinarity and control, and how can the latter function as a periodizing device if it cannot be detached from the former? The only possible answer is that the logic of control does not invent new relations, but mobilizes and reorients techniques and technologies whose origins predate it. Such techniques and technologies must thus be understood as recursive; they both originate in and belong to a specific regime and perform essential functions within subsequent regimes. Because of this, historically attentive analyses of control cannot remain in the twentieth century, but must set about gathering the threads that, in the appropriate combination and at the correct level of development, constitute apparatuses of power that are distinctive in character even as they retain objects and practices that first become legible in earlier moments. One way of doing this is by considering the specific phenomena Deleuze implicates when he suggests that Foucault already identified the roots of control in disciplinary societies.

In the “Postscript” Deleuze identifies two particular tendencies in the systems of management unearthed by Foucault: the first centers on the production of the individual subject through techniques of discipline, and the second addresses the biopolitical formatting of a given society as a mass delineated by statistical models and confined by thresholds or filters. Where disciplines saw “no incompatibility at all” between masses and individuals, so that signatures could stand in for the latter while lists or registers accounted for the individual’s place in a mass, control reformulates masses as “samples, data, markets, or banks” and recasts individuals as “dividuals” (1995b, 180). The resonance with Foucault’s theorization of biopolitics and biopower is marked: what are samples and data if not computational technologies for the production of the “forecasts, statistical estimates, and overall measures” that Foucault positions as emblematic of biopower (Foucault 2003, 246)? What are markets and banks if not electronically augmented examples of the “subtle, rational mechanisms” of biopolitics that include “insurance, individual and collective savings, safety measures, and so on” (Foucault 2003, 246)? What is the dividual if not the subject mapped in terms of generalized, discrete predicates (race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age), none of which can metonymically stand in for the ‘whole’ person? How, in other words, does control differ from biopower?

The proximity between Deleuze’s theorization of the cybernetic movement from masses to data and Foucault’s conceptualization of mechanisms that seek “homeostasis” (249) is registered in the odd way in which Hardt and Negri introduce the two in Empire: they write that “Foucault’s work allows us to recognize a historical, epochal passage in social forms from disciplinary society to societies of control.” (2000, 22-23), Only in the footnote to this claim do they reveal that this epochal passage is “not articulated explicitly by Foucault but remains implicit in his work,” an observation that is only guided (rather than prefigured) by “the excellent commentaries of Gilles Deleuze” (2000, 419n1). Within Foucault’s oeuvre The Birth of Biopolitics (first delivered in lecture form in 1978 and 1979; English translation 2008) might be the book in which a genealogy of control is most explicitly articulated, although it is notable that this text focuses on the imaginaries of political economists rather than those of governments. “Society Must be Defended” (delivered in lecture form in 1975 and 1976; English translation 2003) and volume I of The History of Sexuality (1976; English translation 1978), both of which center on techniques of governmentality, disclose connections between discipline, biopower, and control that make theories of linear succession unworkable.

So, the identification between biopower and control appears so overt that Hardt and Negri more or less conflate the two and are able to attribute the definition of the latter to latent content in Foucault’s writings. They then make the claim that “[i]n the passage from disciplinary society to the society of control, a new paradigm of power is realized which is defined by the technologies that recognize society as the realm of biopower” (Hardt and Negri 2000, 24). So control societies come about when the ratio of biopower to discipline shifts in favor of the latter. What, then, is revealed about the historical specificity of control societies when one recognizes that Foucault locates the emergence of the techniques of biopower, in concert with those of discipline, in the eighteenth century? For this is the claim that grounds Foucault’s introduction to the concept of biopower in “Society Must be Defended,” where he states that “the two sets of mechanisms—one disciplinary and one regulatory [biopolitical]” are “not mutually exclusive, and can be articulated with each other” (2003, 250). This is restated in volume I of The History of Sexuality, in which Foucault writes that power over life evolves in “two basic forms” from the seventeenth century onwards (1978, 139). These two forms again correspond to the regimes of discipline and biopower. While the second of these appears “somewhat later” than the first, it is clear that Foucault does not theorize the two as discrete, successive developments. Nor are they theorized as “antithetical” (Foucault 1978, 139). Rather, they form “two poles of development linked together by a whole intermediary cluster of relations” (1978, 139). This diagram—two poles linked by intermediary clusters—suggests that control emerges not from a waning of disciplinary power, but rather through a shift in the articulations of discipline and biopower that is much more complex than a simple passage through which a given society becomes increasingly intelligible as graspable through the terms of the latter. Equally, although the former might appear to be organized around inclusion and exclusion and the latter around integration, thinking the two as articulated logics emphasizes a more complex relationship: biopower is organized around thresholds that render and occlude populations, while disciplinary techniques both regulate the education, productivity, and health of ‘normal’ individuals (above the threshold) and manage the bodies that fall below the line separating the normal from the abnormal, or that which should be made to live from that which can be left to die.

Once so-called disciplinary societies are understood to be organized around both the ‘pure’ individualizing function of disciplinary institutions and the massifying, averaging, and sorting functions of statistical modeling and management, the historical movement from the eighteenth, and nineteenth century articulations of discipline and biopower to the phenomena Deleuze associates with control must be understood in terms of shifts in scale and conceptual emphasis. Furthermore, these shifts can be connected to the function of particular technologies, which not only facilitate specific practices of capture, representation, and management but also generate and modify the dominant conceptual bases around which social formations are imagined and normalized. Consider the following proposition, which draws together the governmental and the technological valences of control: the mutation of a regime organized around the hinged, lockable thresholds of factories, plantations, and prisons into a regime organized around logic gates and supply chain diagrams can be understood as a movement between enclosures that are larger than and that enclose, include, and exclude bodies and microscopic enclosures that are premised on logics of selection and that position non-selected beings as nonexistent or structurally invisible rather than aberrant but existent. [2] Or, consider the ways in which the necropolitical regimes identified by Achille Mbembe (2003) and the genealogical link between panopticon and slave ship that Simone Browne traces so brilliantly in Dark Matters (2015, 31-62) persist and are reframed or modulated through the shifts in articulation sketched here. [3] These articulations, modulations, and intensifications are organized around (but not determined by) technological regimes. The relationship between the individual and the dividual, for example, is intelligible as the difference between the world rendered mechanically or thermodynamically and the world rendered digitally—a shift that reframes Deleuze’s comments about the signature technologies of sovereignty, discipline, and control in epistemic terms.

2. Technology

 Considered in isolation, “machines don’t explain anything” (Deleuze 1995a, 175); rather, they “express the social forms capable of producing them and making use of them” (Deleuze 1995b, 180). At the same time, the “language” of discipline can be specified as “analogical,” while control operates through languages that are “digital (although not necessarily binary)” (1995b, 178). So analogue and digital, while associated with certain classes of machine, must be understood to exceed the technical registers that shape them and to function as conceptual operators within discursive-material fields (which might include systems of production, management, and regulation). With this in mind, how might one derive a non-deterministic theory of the relationship between technology, power, and economy from the control texts? This question lurks in the background of the “Postscript on Control Societies,” and it constitutes one of the most telling ways in which that text can be read as an encrypted theory of historical method as well as a diagram of a specific period.

As is suggested at the end of the preceding section, the shift in scale from the door of the enclosure to the gate of the logic circuit circles around a technological development, but is also comes to undergird epistemological claims about fundamental categories such as thinking, the human, and sociality. And, as the discussion of discipline and biopolitics at the end of the preceding section suggests, the historical, concept-generating function of technology that Deleuze sketches with his claim about “collective apparatuses” impedes linear periodization by implementing a recursive temporality: specific technologies give concrete form to collective social forces that precede them, and in so doing intensify and reorient these forces, coming to function as what Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (1997) calls “epistemic things.” In other words, a specific technology might come to concretize and exemplify the abstractions undergirding a given political-economic regime, but it does so by securing or amplifying certain conceptual structures or operations that logically and historically precede it, as well as by reorienting concepts and facilitating new practices and relations that point (again, for better and worse) towards different sociopolitical arrangements. For example, as Bernhard Siegert (2012, 2015) shows, the door permits a body to pass through when it is open, thus both expressing and securing the inside/outside distinction (and, by extension, the logic of disciplinary power), whereas the logic gate permits a signal to pass through only when it is closed, thus securing a conceptual system that permits conceptual mixtures of inside and outside, and human and nonhuman, that exemplify distinctive regimes of accumulation and management.

This recursive theorization of technology as product, expression, and shifter of social forces is one of the moments at which continuities between the control texts and Deleuze’s earlier collaborations with Guattari become most overt. Consider the similarities between the “collective apparatuses” of which machines form one element and the “social machine” that Deleuze and Guattari identify in their book on Kafka:

a machine is never simply technical. Quite the contrary, it is technical only as a social machine, taking men and women into its gears, or, rather, having men and women as part of its gears along with things, structures, metals, materials. Even more, Kafka doesn’t think only about the conditions of alienated, mechanized labor—he knows all about that in great, intimate detail—but his genius is that he considers men and women to be part of the machine not only in their work but even more so in their adjacent activities, in their leisure, in their loves, in their protestations, in their indignations, and so on (1986, 81).

This claim, which is redolent of the “social factory” thesis advanced by Mario Tronti and taken up by many subsequent writers, makes it clear that “collective apparatuses” centered on technology include concepts, systems of management, and normative ways of living as well as procedures of extraction, definition, and occlusion. The mechanical factory of “gears,” “structures,” “metals,” and “materials” is one such apparatus, and it is imbricated with specific orientations of “leisure,” “loves,” ”protestations,” and so on. What kinds of orientation center on computation?

In Control: Digitality as Cultural Logic (Franklin 2015) I tracked some of the ways in which the electronic digital computer functions both as a specific device and as a source of ideas and metaphors within the shifting social and economic imaginaries of capitalism. The genealogy I posit moves through the imbrications of computation and socioeconomic imagination in Charles Babbage’s interrelated work on computing engines, theology, and political economy in the 1830s, Herman Hollerith’s tabulating machines of the 1890s, and the diffusion of computer metaphors following the emergence of the multi-discipline formation of cybernetics from the 1940s onwards. Following this, I trace some of the ways in which these imaginaries become visible in economic theories, systems of accumulation, production, and circulation, management styles, psychology (including mid-twentieth century developments in psychoanalysis and later practices such as NLP), literature, and film. Across these analyses I focus on the ways in which the articulations of human and (computing) machine, sociality and (computer) network, produce normative visions that cleave ever closer to the insistent but impossible ideal of capital as a logic that promises to integrate the entirety of the social without remainder. As I attempted to show in that book, there are a number of places in which one can look for images of the collective apparatuses fantasized under celebratory and critical accounts of control. The prehistory of computing machines and their projected applications to workplace organization, value extraction, and population management is one. The Macy Conferences of 1946-1953 are another. The TCP/IP suite and Google’s PageRank and AdSense technologies are others (Pasquinelli 2009). And production and recruitment manifestos from the Toyota Production System to the Netflix “culture code” are yet others. But one can also look to an earlier project associated more than any other with the practice of disciplinary power.

Jeremy Bentham’s 1787 essay “Panopticon, or, The Inspection House” begins with a grand announcement: “Morals reformed—health preserved—industry invigorated—public burdens lighted—Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock—the gordian knot of the poor laws not cut, but untied—all by a simple idea in architecture!” Resisting the oft-repeated distinction between discipline and biopower, Bernhard Siegert takes the universality of this claim as an opportunity to locate an unexamined genealogy of digital-social technologies that, perhaps surprisingly, includes the disciplinary technologies of panopticon and penny post as well as the nascent computing machines theorized and developed by Babbage and Ada Lovelace. “The Panopticon was applicable to every kind of bio-politics,” Siegert writes of Bentham’s pronouncement, because on it, like on the penny post and the analytical engine, “contents and applications were programs that ran (or would run)” only because “such machines were blind to them” (Siegert 1999, 126-127). This leads him to a theorization of power that is compelling for thinking through the historical logic of technology that the control texts insist upon:

That the machine or power became abstract, Deleuze has said, merely meant that it became programmable. But power itself became machinelike in the process. The rationality of power—functionality or universality—requires the prior standardization of the data it processes—via postage stamps or punch cards, it makes no difference…Disciplinary machine, postal machine, adding machine: after their interconnection was established, bodies, discourses, and numbers were one and the same with regard to the technology of power: data, and as such, contingent (Siegert 1999, 127).

The central figure here is not enumeration but abstraction. In Siegert’s account one finds a description of the disciplinary technology par excellence in which the latter appears not as a thermodynamic machine (in line with Deleuze’s periodization) but as a digital information processor which functions through abstraction, remains structurally indifferent to the specifics of the purpose to which it is turned, and thus formats its human subjects as unmarked inputs and/or outputs. His theorization emphasizes the necessity for analyses of technology and culture to take into account the conceptual operations that both undergird and extend out of particular machines, connecting them, in often surprising ways, to past devices and practices as well as to current and future formations.

Siegert does not speak of the value form in his theorization of panopticon, penny post, and computing machine as abstract machines of power, but the resonance between his account and that most central of Marxian concepts is pronounced. With this provocation in mind, the theorization of technology Deleuze sets out in the “Postscript” is suggestive of some compelling direction for the integration of media theory and history within studies of economy and governmentality. Siegert’s work on cultural techniques (2015) will prove useful here, as might the writing of Friedrich Kittler, Cornelia Vismann, Sybille Krämer, Wolfgang Ernst, Markus Krajewski, and others. Equally, Galloway’s work on François Laruelle (2014) points towards ways in which historically and geographically specific modes of thought constitute a relationship between modernity and digitality long before and far away from the electronic digital computer. Amplified through these later media-theoretical interventions, the mode of historical analysis diagrammed in the “Postscript” invites one to consider the ways in which investigations into cultural techniques, the materiality of signifying systems, the conceptual character of digitality, and the concept-generating function of technologies might intersect with analyses of capitalism in ways that can illuminate the complexities of the post-1970s period in which Marxian analysis appears both especially vital and incessantly troubled by transformations in regimes of labor, value extraction, and accumulation.

3. Economy

Deleuze underscores the discursive effects of “information technologies and computers” by insisting that such devices are “deeply rooted in a mutation of capitalism” (1995b, 180). This mutation, he notes, “has been widely summarized” (1995b, 180); its effects can be seen in the movement towards the service-based, reticular ideals of production and distribution touched upon in the opening passages of this essay. As Deleuze puts it, the distinguishing features of movement results in a dispersed mode of value extraction under which the most visible Global North businesses seek to sell “services” and buy “activities,” directing their activities towards “sales or markets” rather than the production of goods (1995b, 181). These shifts constitute another vector along which one might set out a periodization theory—the movement from production to “metaproduction” (1995b, 181), or, from Fordism to post-Fordism. This shift is directly correlated to the emergence of what is often termed a neoliberal logic of competition that is theorized by scholars such as Wendy Brown as “extending and disseminating market values to all institutions and social action, even as the market itself remains a distinctive player” (Brown 2003, n.p.). As Deleuze notes, one of the outcomes of the economic shifts with which control is associated is the injection of “an inexorable rivalry presented as healthy competition, a wonderful motivation that sets individuals against each other and sets itself up in each of them, dividing each within himself” (1995b, 179). Across the pages of the “Postscript” the economic practices associated with control are said to: emerge in relation to computer technologies; function within (a mutated) capitalism; limn the contours of the dominant economic models of the day (many of which are often theorized by orthodox Marxian scholars as subsidiary or even antithetical to the production-centered tenets of capitalism); and intersect with a mode of governmentality and sense-training. That Deleuze presents these practices as part of the same historical regime shows that the economic logic that he associates with of control societies cannot be thought through without also addressing a number of other historical frames, several of which function across quite different durations and contexts. As stated at the outset, it may be that the imposition of this multi-threaded, incommensurable historical method is the real endowment passed on by Deleuze via the control texts.

“Today,” Deleuze stated in a 1995 interview in Le Nouvel Observateur, “I can say I feel completely Marxist. The article I have published on the ‘society of control,’ for example, is completely Marxist, yet I write about things that Marx did not know” (1995c). If the “Postscript” is “completely Marxist” then it is remarkable for the challenges it poses to classical Marxist categories of historical analysis. Perhaps this is most overt in the theorization of spatio-temporal dispersion, the movement from the “body” of the factory to businesses that are a “soul” or “gas” (1995b, 179), the account of the movement of art away from “closed sites” and into “the open circuits of banking,” (1995b, 181), and the baleful description of “speech and communication” becoming “thoroughly permeated” by “money” (1995a, 175). Each of these phenomena resonates with recent theorizations that rest on and extend Marx’s concept of real subsumption (Marx 1994, 93-116). In Hardt and Negri’s exemplary version of such an extension, real subsumption describes nothing less than the total enclosure of society by capital. For example, they write that:

[w]ith the real subsumption of society under capital…capital has become a world. Use value and all the other references to values and processes of valorization that were conceived to be outside the capitalist mode of production have progressively vanished. Subjectivity is entirely immersed in exchange and language, but that does not mean it is now pacific. Technological development based on the generalization of the communicative relationships of production is a motor of crisis, and productive general intellect is a nest of antagonisms (2000, 386).

This notion of real subsumption far exceeds that found in Marx’s writing, where it describes the processes through which commodity production is restructured in order to maximize efficiency, for example by increasing the proportion of production that is automated by machinery (a process described as an increase in the organic composition of capital). [4] An outcome of this procedure is a general decrease in the surplus labor congealed in a given commodity (a process Marx describes in terms of a decrease in absolute surplus value extraction) and rising unemployment, all of which, lead to a decline in profit derived from commodity production and make it necessary for new sources of value to be sought in the sphere of reproduction. The practices and theories glossed by the term ‘neoliberalism’ might all be understood as responses to this process. The phenomena that Guy Debord theorizes in The Society of the Spectacle furnish other examples, as does the exponential growth of the tertiary (service) sector. None of these regimes of extraction are evenly distributed; participation is subject to processes of gendering and racialization, related constructions of physical and cognitive capacity, and other procedures for selecting whose attention, rationality, and affective capacities should be defined as valorizable, and in which ways. As such, the notion that real subsumption progressively integrates that which exists outside the capitalist mode of production is impossible; indeed, the clean distinction between inside and outside that would make such a movement possible is shown to be antithetical to the logic of capital.

As Rosa Luxemburg writes, capitalism “depends in all respects on non-capitalist strata and social organizations existing side by side with it” (2003, 345). The essential role played by so-called ‘non-productive’ domestic labor (childbirth and child rearing, cooking cleaning) in the reproduction of labor power is perhaps the most obvious example of this. With this in mind, for real subsumption to be functional in concert with any periodization theory the notion of a process through which capital in all senses encircles “the world” must be replaced with specific, materialist examinations of the dynamics of inside and outside, representation and occlusion, and integration and suspension that are imbricated with the transformations collected under the ideas of post-industrial or post-Fordist production. In the “fully Marxist” pages of the “Postscript” Deleuze insists that one account for both sides of this dialectic: on the one hand, he tracks the shifts in labor relations and accumulation detailed above (e.g. in the shift from the factory to the business, from goods to services, and so on); on the other hand, he makes it clear that the forms of dispersal and modulation that characterize these shifts are secured against the “three quarters of humanity in extreme poverty, too poor to have debts and too numerous to be confined” (1995b, 181). Extending this relation beyond Deleuze’s sketch, today one might observe that racialized and gendered surplus populations serve as proxy, object, or raw material within some of the newer modes of accumulation, from the “commodified life” of inmates in private prisons and detention centers (Tadiar 2012) to the forms of service, surrogacy, and outsourced labor that are understood not to generate value directly but to facilitate the valorization and reproduction of other, more directly valorizable lives (Vora 2015).

In the end, it is this dialectical, materialist impulse that grounds the movement between ‘clean’ periodization and the coexistence of unmatched and even conflicting areas of inquiry within the “Postscript.” Tracking the techniques and technologies of dispersed sovereignty, mapping the affordances and discursive implications of computing machines, and itemizing the emerging dynamics of an economy without commodities are all necessary endeavors. But the analysis of sociopolitical distribution must take into account the persistence of violent corralling, much of which now operates through for-profit providers and the legal and discursive framing of prisoners and detainees as nonhuman. The analysis of computer media must remain attentive to the historicity and materiality of devices, their users, and the people that labor, often precariously and in deleterious conditions, to produce them; it must also address the ways in which all of these are abstracted, in the same way but with quite different implications, by the cultural and technical operations of the media in question. And, for now at least, the analysis of ‘immaterial’ economic formations must think these relations in relation to the persistence of older modes and against newer but less widely discussed methods for the violent extraction of value from human life, many of which are also presented as services. The radical promise of periodization lies in its capacity to provisionally impose a set of historical markers against which one can 1) capture and measure interactions between abstractions and concrete sociality while also 2) registering the ways in which those interactions produce a surplus that exceeds or is too faint to register within those markers. Since abstraction, capture, and measuring are themselves expressions of the social relations whose changing articulations are registered in the passage designated as that from discipline to control, the impossibility of absolutely clean periodization is as important as—and registers the critical value of—the diagnostic utility that periodization affords.


[1] It is possible to identify a larger archive of texts that, while not naming control as such, certainly examine the same historical tendencies; see the chapter “7000 B.C.: Apparatus of Capture” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 424-473) and the appendix to (Deleuze 1999, 102-110).

[2] This argument can be extended to other discursive formations that operate in the present. For example, one can follow Jord/ana Rosenberg and take the molecule rather than the logic gate as the exemplary epistemic object in order to examine a different valence of the contemporary moment (Rosenberg 2014).

[3] On the systemic practice and occlusion of slavery in supply chains see

[4] For a rigorous account of real subsumption as it pertains to periodization see (Endnotes 2010).


Brown, Wendy. 2003. “Neo-Liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy.” Theory and Event 7:1.

Browne, Simone. 2015. Dark Matters: on the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Bentham, Jeremy. 1843. “Panopticon, or, the Inspection-House,” in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 4. Edinburgh: William Tait.

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